Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

California Drought News: New questions for an old dam debate, and new threats to old forests

A man looks for gold in Woods Creek in Jamestown, Calif., in 2011.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Monday's drought news reveals that everything old is new again, drought-news-wise.

  • Matt Weiser and Jeremy White report that the drought has reactivated efforts to build dams and reservoirs around California; seven pieces of legislation and numerous other proposals would authorize new construction. This time around, they say there are new questions about such proposals
Is there enough water left in California to justify the cost of dams? If taxpayers do front some money, what are they really buying? Are they propping up a project with shaky economics, or buying something with real public value? (Sacramento Bee)

Great, great read, and a must-read today.

  • We've heard several times this year already about new opportunities for finding gold in exposed river beds thanks to the drought. Scott Gold's version of the gold prospector story includes a short video. (LA Times)
  • KQED's Sasha Khoka hangs out with the drilling guys making a killing off of drought. The Central Valley is busily sinking wells and deepening them in search of more water, and well drillers say they're even more busy than the last big drought in 1977. She talked to one guy, Bob Zimmerer, who admits the silver lining of the drought has more than a little cloudy gray in it: 


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California Drought News: Workers leaving, water pumping, and desalinating

Industry advocates "joke" when they tell Poseidon that the success of desalination as an enterprise hinges on the success of the company's plant in Carlsbad. (Photo: Rendering of Poseidon Resources desalination plant in Carlsbad, Calif.)

Friday's news is wondering whether Slip 'N Slides are kosher under urban water use restrictions. But first, let's head out of the city for a little while.

  • In a long read out today, Diana Marcum reports on the Central Valley town of Huron and the impact a drought has on a place where no crops means no jobs:
Even in years when rain falls and the Sierra mountains hold a snowpack that will water almonds and onions, cattle and cantaloupes, Huron's population swells and withers with the season. These days in Huron — and Mendota and Wasco and Firebagh and all the other farmworker communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley — even the permanent populations are packing up. (Los Angeles Times)

Several stories about developments that impact some water rights holders and not others point to the inequities in a system that can't quite ask everyone to conserve.


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California Drought News: Water fights, rights and lobbying Congress for quick action

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir serves the San Francisco Public Utility Commission water..AND power.
melfoody/via Flickr

Today's Dryku:

We all know it's true
That Congress can't make it rain
Can it pass a bill?


  • Last week, the Senate unanimously passed Dianne Feinstein's water bill. Now it has to be reconciled with a House version. Growers are urging Congress to work fast. (Sierra Sun Times)
  • James Patterson also urges quick action. Otherwise, he sees some, shall we say, far-reaching ripple effects:
[Food] aid disruption, seen as unjust to the needy nations, could breed anti-Americanism and result in terrorist actions against international U.S. companies and government agencies. Other foreign policy initiatives could also be complicated. (The Hill Congress Blog)

To frack or not to frack?

  • The state senate may decide to impose a moratorium on fracking while its impacts on the environment are examined. The Mercury News says its use of water should be part of the consideration:


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California Drought News: 'Wild West' water policy, wildlife seeking water, bumper berry crop, more

Louvers at the Skinner Fish Facility in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta divert most fish away from pumps that lift water into the California Aqueduct.
Mae Ryan/KPCC file photo
  • In a major take-out, AP "uncovers" something that's been hiding in plain sight for decades: California water policy is a throwback to the Wild West. (Associated Press)
  • Meanwhile, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found the majority of the state's agricultural water districts don't report how much water they use as required by state law. (SFGate)
  • Speaking of food, wildlife need to eat too, and it seems the drought is pushing more of it into populated areas in search of sustenance. (SFGate)
  • A wildfire in the Sierra foothills has scorched 1,300 acres and threatens hundreds of homes. (Modesto Bee)
  • Drought silver lining: the warm, dry winter has meant a bumper crop for California berry growers. (Fresno Bee)


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California Drought News: Federal legislation, and the crop that will be hit hardest

A northern California rice field, after the crop has been harvested.
Bob White/Flickr

Friday's news is packing up for the long weekend. But before you go:

  • The U.S. Senate passed a 16-page drought bill late Thursday night. Now it's got to go to committee with a 68-page drought bill passed by the GOP-controlled House. One bill puts into practice stuff President Obama's already done. The other has earned a threat of a veto from the President. Compromise? (McClatchy/DC)
Environmentalists are not happy. Patricia Schifferle of Pacific Advocates says the new bill allows reservoir storage to continue until the governor formally declares the drought to be over. It also circumvents historic water agreements and legal rulings to allow greater water exports from the Sacramento Delta to growers in the Central Valley. (Represent!)
  • The drought will hit the cost of rice hardest...which makes sense. Rice is a water-intense crop. (Sacramento Bee) (Though the rice lobby says rice farming is more efficient than you think.)
  • Fish vs. Farmers? Eric Holthouse arrives at California's longstanding battle, and says everyone's wrong. (Slate)
  • Pleasanton's drought hotline is taking 500 calls a day. I guess people in Pleasanton really want to do this drought right. (KTVU)


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